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Mack v. Aspen of D.C., Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 24, 2018

YOLONDA MACK, Plaintiff,
ASPEN OF D.C., INC., et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [DKTS. ## 24, 26, 28, 31]


         Plaintiff Yolonda Mack ("plaintiff or "Mack") brings this action against Aspen of D.C., Inc. ("Aspen") and Aspen's President and CEO, Brandy R. Butler ("Butler") (collectively, "defendants"). Mack alleges discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2OOOe et seq., as well as failure to pay wages in violation of D.C. Code § 32-1012. See generally Compl. [Dkt. #1]. Currently pending before the Court is defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. See Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. ("Defs.' Mot.") [Dkt. # 26].[1] Having considered the record and relevant case law, the defendants' motion is GRANTED.


         When evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court accepts the evidence of the non-movant-here, Mack-and resolves all genuine factual disputes in her favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.242, 255 (1986). A non-movant's unsupported allegations, however, are not sufficient to oppose admissible evidence put forward by the party seeking summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.317, 324 (1986). With those principles in mind, I recount the factual background of this dispute.

         Aspen is a company that provides temporary staffing to federal, state, and local government agencies as well as to private sector companies. Defs.' Mot. Ex. 1, Aff. of Brandy Butler ("Butler Aff") ¶ 3 [Dkt. # 26-2]. In 2010, Aspen secured a contract to provide temporary staffing to the District of Columbia Department of General Services ("DGS"). Id. ¶ 4. The contract was structured in one-year terms, renewable annually at the sole discretion of DGS. Id. ¶¶4-5, 7-9. As relevant here, the initial Aspen-DGS contract for Fiscal Year 2010 required Aspen to provide one temporary employee to staff DGS's Eastern Market facility as an assistant manager. Id. ¶¶ 5"6- Pursuant to that requirement, Aspen placed Katrina Cuffey ("Cuffey") in the assistant manager position. Id. Although her title was assistant manager, Cuffey, curiously, had no supervisory duties with respect to other employees. Id. Those supervisory duties instead fell to Barry Margeson, a permanent DGS employee. Id. ¶ 14; Defs.' Mot. Ex. 2, Dep. of Yolanda Mack ("Mack Dep.") 22:18-19 [Dkt. # 26-3].

         In 2011, DGS revised the scope of work of its contract with Aspen. Butler Aff. ¶ 11. In addition to the assistant manager role, which continued to be occupied by Cuffey, DGS requested that Aspen provide the Eastern Market facility with another temporary employee to serve as an event coordinator. Id. In September 2011, Aspen hired Mack to fill that new event coordinator position. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. Mack's employment agreement with Aspen informed Mack that she was an at-will employee of Aspen-not DGS-and that her employment could be terminated at any time. See Def.'s Mot. Ex. 11 [Dkt. # 26-12]. As event coordinator, Mack interacted with Cuffey a few days a week regarding bookings at the Eastern Market facility and related issues. See Mack Dep. 27:19-28:12.

         The events giving rise to this case began a few months after Mack started in her role as event coordinator. At that time, as Mack tells it, Cuffey began to subject Mack to inappropriate sexual comments and advances. Mack recounts an incident in late 2011 or early 2012 when Cuffey invited Mack to attend a "swingers party" and, in the course of that invitation, made crude remarks regarding the potential for Mack and Cuffey to participate in sexual intercourse with other Aspen employees. See Id. at 35:14-36:7, 47:14-21. In addition, Mack claims that Cuffey sent her a sexually explicit text message in late 2011. See Pl.'s Rule 56 Mot. Ex. 6, Deck of Yolonda Mack ("Mack Deck") ¶ 9 [Dkt. # 28-6]. Mack states that Cuffey frequently remarked on the size of Mack's breasts and asked if she could touch them. See Mack Dep. 35:2-8, 38:12-15. The "final straw, " according to Mack, was a late 2013 incident in which Cuffey offered to pay Mack to have sex with Cuffey and an unknown third person. Id. at 40:6-11, 52:5. In the month following that incident, Mack says that she informed defendant Butler of Cuffey's inappropriate sexual behavior. See Pl.'s Rule 56 Mot. Ex. 3, at 21 [Dkt. # 28-3].[2]

         Around that same time, Mack also confided in an Eastern Market maintenance worker regarding Cuffey's behavior. Mack Dep. 50:1-15. As it turns out, however, Mack's confidant was himself in a relationship with Cuffey and promptly informed Cuffey of Mack's comments. Id. at 50:19-51:2. On February 8, 2014, Cuffey confronted Mack outside of Eastern Market, stating that she heard Mack had "a problem" with her. Id. at 58:6-12. Although Mack simply walked away from the conversation, the confrontation drove her to file a formal, written complaint with Aspen management in February 2014. Id. at 53:l-3, 58:15-20;see also Defs.' Mot.Ex.3 [Dkt.#26-4]. It is undisputed that Mack experienced no inappropriate sexual comments or behavior following the filing of her formal, written complaint. Mack Dep. 59:4.

         Upon Aspen's receipt of the complaint, Aspen immediately began to conduct an investigation into the allegations made by Mack. Pl.'s Rule 56 Mot. Ex. 4, at 5 ("March 2014 Report") [Dkt. # 28-4].[3] As part of the investigation, Aspen management interviewed Cuffey, Mack, and other individuals employed at Eastern Market. See March 2014 Report. Notably, during Mack's interview, the Aspen interviewer asked whether Mack wanted Aspen to implement any "remedial measure[s]" to change the work environment. Mack Dep. 97:18. Mack responded by noting that she thought that things "should be good" once Aspen spoke with Cuffey and that Mack was "okay with moving past all of this" in part because she did not "really have to see" Cuffey at Eastern Market. Id. at 98:7-14. After the investigation was complete, Aspen issued a report of its findings and recommendations in late March 2014. See March 2014 Report. The report noted that Aspen could not "corroborate either the complainant's allegations of sexual harassment, or the respondent['s] denial of such behavior." Id. at 2. Yet the report acknowledged that there were communications between Mack and Cuffey that, if substantiated, had the potential to create a "hostile work environment." Id. The report also observed that both Mack and Cuffey gave "individual assurances" that they were "willing to continue to work at Eastern Market and believe they can do so effectively." Id. To prevent any further misconduct, however, the report required Mack and Cuffey to complete sexual harassment training. Id. Aspen's vice president, Boyd, also informed Cuffey "that sexual harassment in the workplace would not be tolerated" and that she "would be terminated" should Boyd learn of any additional complaints. Defs.' Mot. Ex. 4, Aff. of Harrison Boyd ("Boyd Aff") ¶ 7 [Dkt. #26-5].

         Mack was not satisfied with the conclusions set forth in the report. During an April 2014 meeting where Aspen representatives and Mack met to discuss the report, Mack indicated that she may have additional evidence to substantiate her claims of Cuffey's sexual harassment. Pl.'s Rule 56 Mot. Ex. 3, at 18 [Dkt. # 28-3]. After considering Mack's assertions, Aspen agreed to allow Mack to supplement the internal investigation record with her additional evidence. Id. Mack responded by providing Aspen with a sexually explicit image-an image that Mack claims was sent to her by Cuffey via text message. Mack Decl. ¶ 9. Aspen considered the additional information and issued a finalized report in July 2014. See Defs.' Mot. Ex. 5 ("July 2014 Report") [Dkt. # 26-6].

         In that July report, Aspen reiterated its findings that Cuffey's communications had the potential to create a hostile work environment. Id. It also determined that the sexually explicit image had indeed been sent from Cuffey to Mack, but was transmitted on "personal cell phones after normal work hours." Id. at 2. Nonetheless, the report notes that Cuffey had completed her required sexual harassment training, and that Aspen "advised Ms. Cuffey in writing that the behavior alleged by Ms. Mack is unacceptable and against ADC corporate policies and procedures and that any further behavior of this nature and/or acts of retribution would result in further disciplinary actions." Id. at 3. The report also stated that an Aspen representative "will continue to monitor the worksite" to ensure "improved working conditions" for Mack. Id.

         From the time of her formal complaint through the end of the investigation, Mack claims that she experienced various retaliatory actions on the part of Aspen and DGS staff, including increased monitoring by Aspen personnel and questioning about an incident in which cocaine was found in an office at Eastern Market. See Mack Dep. 73:20-74:12, 76:5-77:1. Ultimately, Mack's position was phased out as part of a DGS effort to consolidate operations and cut costs. Butler Aff. ¶ 15. In particular, DGS requested that Aspen bid on a new contract that provided only for the retention of the assistant manager position-not Mack's event coordinator position. Id.; Defs.' Mot. Ex. 12 [Dkt. # 26-13], As a result of DGS's alteration of the contract terms, Mack's position at Eastern Market was eliminated effective at the start of Fiscal Year 2014. Mack was informed of that fact in September 2014, and worked through mid-October 2014. Butler Aff. ¶ 16. According to Aspen's Human Resources and Accounting supervisor, Haile Eyob Nessibu, Mack's paycheck was mailed to her last known address after Mack failed to pick up the paycheck at the office. Defs.' Mot. Ex. 13, Aff. of Haile Eyob Nessibu ("Nessibu Aff") ¶¶ 5, 7 [Dkt. # 26-14]. Mack, for her part, claims that she never received her final paycheck and, more broadly, that the elimination of her position was retaliatory. Mack Deck ¶ 11.

         Based on the above events, Mack filed a Title VII hostile work environment and retaliation complaint with the EEOC in January 2015. Defs.' Mot. Ex. 10 ("Mack EEOC Compl.") [Dkt. # 26-11]. After receiving notice of her right to sue in court, Mack filed this judicial action against Aspen and Butler.[4] In her complaint, Mack alleges discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII; she also presses one claim for failure to pay wages in violation of the D.C. Code. See generally Compl. Currently before the Court is defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as well as the parties' dueling motions stemming from discovery and deadline disputes. I now turn to the various issues presented by those motions, ultimately concluding that defendants are entitled to summary judgment.


         The defendants have moved for summary judgment. Summary judgment may be granted 'if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is "material" if it "may affect the outcome of the litigation." Montgomery v. Risen,875 F.3d 709, 713 (D.C. Cir. 2017). A dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a ...

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